30 March 2009

Koh Samui 13-17Mar 09: Itinerary and Day 1

Hubby and I have been talking about Koh Samui for the longest time but never got down to planning a trip until recently, where we finally decided that this is THE destination for my birthday getaway!

Once again, I was the master planner =D I love pouring through websites, getting myself prep about the destination, and searching for lodging that fits our needs as well as budget. The thing about Samui is, there are simply too many choices, from lush resorts to intimate villas, the affordable to the lavish, to suit the whims and fancies of different holiday makers.

Well, since it was supposed to be a treat, I sort of coerced hubby for something more extravagant =p. Planned to stay 3 nights at a resort either at Chaweng or Bophut where we would spend time exploring the island and the streets/shopping. Then shift to Six Senses Hideaway Samui for 1 night, basically just laze around and do nothing.

The easy part was Six Senses, as I was eyeing this world renowned brand for a while already. And since we were going to stay there, a pool villa it had to be!

The hard part was selecting the resort for the 3 nights-stay. Finally settled on Sareeraya Villas & Suites, which is quite a new establishment in Samui. It's located towards the northern part of Chaweng Beach, so while it is away from the crowd, it's still within walking distance to the main commercial district. Apparently, the property just opened and had a soft launch only in Dec 08. And quite superficially, I selected this resort because of its beautifully done website! Already I love the furnishings based on the photos showcased. (The importance of a well-maintained website!). Moreover, the resort was running a one-night-for-one-night promo. So I made my booking via their online reservation system for a Holiday Suite and to my pleasant surprise, apart from the instant auto-confirmation, received a courtesy email within an hour from the 'Chief Reservation', informing us of a complimentary pick-up from the airport with even photo of the driver! It was indeed service with a wow.

On the contrary, after I made a reservation online for Six Senses and sent them an email with requests like pool villa with a more exclusive location/better view and late check-out, I did not hear from them until a day later; worse they got my reservation wrong (hideaway villa, instead of pool villa) and did not answer to my requests. Had to send clarifications and reiterate my requests but still not reply on the requests. Hmm... was a tad disappointed, especially after getting the impressive service from Sareeraya.

Anyways, here's my itinerary:

Fri 13 Mar - Evening flight from SG to Samui > Check in at Sareeraya Resort, Chaweng

Sat 14 Mar - Breakfast > Explore Chaweng streets & beach on foot > Massage at Bann Leelawadee Allure Massage & Spa > Lunch at Will Wait Restaurant > Rented motorbike and explore the whole of Samui island > Dinner at Coyote Mexican Restaurant > Concussed

Sun 15 Mar - Light Breakfast > Transfer to Bophut (Fishermen's Village) > Dive Boat to Sail Rock (rock formation between Koh Tao & Koh Phangna) > 2 dives > Transfer back > Back to hotel to rest > Travel to Sabieng Lae Restaurant for Thai seafood (South Lamai) > Back to Chaweng, massage at Bann Leelawadee Allure Massage & Spa > Concussed

Mon 16 Mar - Brunch > last shopping at Chaweng > Check out & transfer to Six Senses Hideaway > Explore, swim, laze, in-villa dining > Concussed

Tue 17 Mar - Sleep late > Massage at Six Senses Spa > Lunch at Dining On The Hill > Swim, laze > Check out > Afternoon flight from Samui back to SG

Day 1

There is only 1 inbound and outbound flight to Koh Samui daily - 8pm in the evening for outbound and 4.30pm (Samui time) for inbound. In a way, good for short getaways as travellers don't have to take leave from work, just depart on Fri evening and come back on Sun afternoon. But it's kind of 1 night 'wasted'.

Anyways, we noticed at the departure lounge, that most travellers were foreigners from European countries and couples. That pretty summed up the crowd we would expect at Samui.

Flight by Bangkok Airways took only 1.5hrs. Nothing eventful, inflight hot meal was ok. Pleasant surprise was a cheery pipe-in music which sort of created a holiday atmosphere :)

After the plane touch downed at Samui airport, it was another pleasant surprise when we were ushered to sit in these open-air trams (think Singapore Zoological Gardens) which brought us to the customs clearance. So cute! The customs clearance is structured like the Singapore Zoological Gardens as well, open-air, ceiling fans, wooden beams, thatched roofs. The first impression of Samui, welcome to tropical paradise! Apparently, the Samui Airport is renowned as one of the most unique and likeable airport in the world.

After clearing customs and claiming our luggage, we made our way to the vehicle pick-up point, where the driver was already expecting us. We also met the Markus, the General Manager of Sareeraya who was there to pick-up 2 special guests from France. While waiting, we chatted with him and found out he is Swiss and has settled in S.E.A region for almost 30 years. In fact, during the few days stay, we discovered quite a number of foreigners on the island with same status.

The transfer from airport to hotel took around 10 minutes. At the hotel lobby, a few front desk staff awaited our arrival; they were warm and friendly and made us feel at home. We were really pleased with a free upgrade from the Holiday Suite booked to a Sareeraya Suite which is located on Level 3 and offers much better view of the ocean!
And after finding out we were going to shift to Six Senses on our fourth day, Markus and Mr 'A' the Front Office Manager thoughtfully offered complimentary transfer! Six Senses didn't even have complimentary transfers :(

Tada! View from our balcony! I was so bowed over by the almost full moon and lovely sight that greeted us. Our holiday has just begun =D Stay tuned!


29 March 2009

Ikan Asam Pekat, Sambal Udang and Sambal Timun

Today is a rare Sunday that we didn't have any plans, appointments or admin stuff to settle. Decided to cook 3 dishes from the Nonya Nasi Lemak class I attended last week, for dinner - the Ikan Asam Pekat (Braised fish in gravy made from tamarind and turmeric), Sambal Udang (Stir-fried prawns in thick and spicy sambal sauce) and Sambal Timun (cucumbers in sambal). Shall KIV the nasi lemak, ikan bilis and onion omelet first.

Which means, hubby and I had to wake up bright and early enough for some marketing at the wet market, because it would be easier to get all the ingredients I need from a wet market.

I love wet markets, which is always bustling with activity and vibrancy. You can get almost everything. Besides, produce are fresher and prices cheaper than supermarkets. Whenever I feel like cooking fish, I would always go to a wet market. Fish sold at supermarkets just don't seem that 'fresh'.

Well, it's just that I usually like to sleep late during weekends so it would take some effort to wake up specially.
Prepping the ingredients. Most of the ingredients like chillies, lemon grass (serai), tamarind (asam), shallots (bawang merah), tumeric (kunyit), prawn paste (belacan), kalamansi lime (limau kesturi), candlenuts (buah keras), can be purchased from Malay stalls. The Mak cik at this particular Malay stall I went was really friendly and helped select the fresher ingredients and even went to her neighbour's stall to take the particular brand of asam I want. LOL. The prices came up to $6.20 and she just accepted $6. Such is the hospitality and warmth at wet markets.

Rempah (raw, ground spices and herbs) for the Sambal Udang. Thank goodness I have my trusty Moulinex electric food chopper which can blend all the ingredients finely in seconds. Don't need to be a little nonya having to pound rempah using mortar and pestle :p

Frying the rempah for Sambal Udang. The spiced aroma filled the entire house!

The Sambal Udang looked spicy but in actual fact, not at all? Would have prefered the sambal to be more spicy but nonetheless I still like this dish for the piquant taste. Probably could add even more chillies but I didn't even deseed the chillies. Well, shall try adding more chillies next time. And I think I might have overestimated the amount of oil needed to fry the rempah, turned out a bit too oily.

The Ikan Asam Pekat tasted good, with very flavourful gravy of tamarind and turmeric! It was well balanced flavour of spiciness and tartness. Hubby gave thumbs-up for this dish, and wiped out the ikan tenggiri =D

The Sambal Timun was nicely done as well. Glad that hubby liked this dish too. The rempah made from chillies, belacan and udang kering (dried shrimps) gave it a very unique taste which was quite refreshing.
All in all, it was quite a successful attempt and the process is simpler and faster than I expected, probably due to the food chopper which substituted the manual pounding of mortar and pestle.
We had the dishes with plain rice. I think would be better with nasi lemak. Next time, I will definitely try the nasi lemak!

28 March 2009

Ultimate Chocolate Treats 1

Goodness, I seems to be attending many baking and cooking workshops lately! Adding more to-bake recipes to my already long list, but I couldn't help it coz the featured recipes are simply irresistable.

Today's class by Chef Joycelyn on Ultimate Chocolate Treats 1 showcases very classic chocolate-based desserts and baked treats that every homebaker can whip-up pretty easily and quickly, some of which are even no-bake ^^. Bonus recipes with permutations of the master recipes are also included in the recipe pack so that we could move on to variations. It's indeed very thoughtful of Chef Joycelyn!

A whooping 7 recipes were demonstrated within 3hrs!
  • Heirloom Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Ultra Fudgy Brownies
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares
  • Malted Milk Chocolate Ice Cream
  • Crème Chocolat
  • Kirsch Whipped Cream
  • Black Forest Trifle - Layers of Crème Chocolat, Kirsch Whipped Cream, Amarena (preserved wild sour cherries) & Ladyfingers biscuits Soaked in Kirsch Syrup
This particular recipe produces brownies that are rich, dense and ultra fudgy in texture (as opposed to some recipes more cakey in texture)

The chocolate used here is Valrhona Equatoriale Noire 55% dark chocolate, a well-balanced Universal chocolate suitable for general baking. It says on the package, 'when in doubt, use this!' LOL. For a less sweet version, can also use the Valrhona Araguani 72% dark chocolate which are slightly more bitter with lower sugar content.

I love the texture of the brownies, a wafer-thin crispy crust with a fudgy interior, making it a decadent treat without being too intense. This is so unlike the cakey brownies I've eaten which are heavy in texture. Usually I would just eat one piece and that is like ok, enough. But this, I think I don't mind a few at one go!

This is the first time I come across a trifle. The components are
  • Ladyfinger biscuits dipped in Kirsch Syrup - a syrup made with Kirsch, a cherry eau-de-vie; can also be replaced by Absolut Raspberry or Currant Vodka
  • Preserved cherries. She uses Amarena Fabbri Wild Cherries in Heavy Syrup. I've mentioned in my previous entry that I like the Fragola Fabbri Strawberries in Heavy Syrup, but not so much of the Wild Cherries version.
  • Creme Chocolate - chocolate cream that is similar to mousse but thicker and more creamy. It can be eaten on its own or use as components in trifle-style desserts or as filling in layer cakes or tarts.
  • Kirsch Whipped Cream - whipped cream with Kirsch undertone.
Stunning composition for the ultimate chocolate lover or those with sweet-tooth, certainly not for the faint-hearted, as the flavours are intense and really sweet.

The chocolate chip cookies we are familiar with in Singapore are the ones from Famous Amos and Subway. This recipe is akin to the latter, which is the more soft and chewy type. Nonetheless, baking time can be adjusted to be make it slightly more crisp.
A generous amount of Valrhona Dark Chocolate Perles 55% is used here. Chef Joycelyn mentioned in her blog that this is the 'Rolls Royce' of baking pearls. LOL. There is no doubt in the quality of Valrhona products, what is amazing here the perles retain its spherical shape even after baking.
This is a no-bake recipe which is really simple. The combination of peanut butter and chocolate topped with salted roasted butter reminds me of those Mars or Snickers bars. Used to consume them but rarely now. Hey I can make my own now!

The Malted Milk Chocolate Ice Cream is divine! Not too sweet, nice blend of Valrhona Jivara milk chocolate and Ovaltine Malted milk powder (can also use Horlicks).
This homemade ice-cream is churned using the Cuisinart Ice Cream Machine; the machine has a built-in refrigeration unit which is able to churn ice cream with perfect creamy consistency within an hour. Although I am really tempted with the idea of homemade ice-cream, alas my kitchen simply does not have the space for another piece of equipment :(
We also tasted the Black Forest Trifle during class as it is best served cold. It is a neat idea to serve this dessert as individual portions in disposable plastic containers, I think perfect for no-frills home parties.
Like I mentioned, the flavours are rich and intense, I love the faint tinge of Kirsch.

A luxe idea of presenting the Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares - in gold foil! I'm already thinking about making this as Christmas treats for my friends, similar to the Mocha Walnut Fudge which I made in Dec 08.

Take-home treats for each participant - one chocolate chip cookie and one piece of the ultra fudgy brownies. The brownies would make yet another nice Christmas treat.
Looking forward to the Ultimate Chocolate Treats 2 class with recipes like Nutella cupcakes and Truffles Au Chocolat (think Royce Nama chocolates, ooohhh, I'm a fan!).

23 March 2009

Japanese-French Pastries 09-III Class

Yesterday was Chef Keiko's last class at Shermay's Cooking School before she shifts back to Japan. Good news is, she may be coming back to teach if opportunity arises :) Certainly hopes so because her baked goodies are visual treats, always presented stylishly and prettily in typical Japanese cafe/patisserie fashion, just like my favourite Afternoon-Tea. And of course tasted heavenly as well.

5 recipes were demonstrated during the class.
  • Raspberry Chiffon Cake - Raspberry-flavoured chiffon cake with Rasberry cream frosting
  • Gateau Chocolat - A Keiko-style chocolate cake
  • Super Vanilla Cheese Cake - Cheese cake with digestive biscuit base
  • Healthy Florentine - Almond and walnuts caramel cookies
  • Lavender Cookies - Lavender-flavoured butter cookies.
I must rave about the Rasberry Chiffon Cake with Rasberry Cream!!! So sweet and pretty looking. When she completed decorating the cake, everyone went 'Awwwwww, so princess like'. It looked exactly like those cakes/pastries I was drooling over in the patisseries at Tokyo.

She was so amazing! A simple chiffon cake got transformed into an angelic looking cake, and she made it look effortless.

And the chiffon cake was super-light and not too sweet. Everyone received one slice to take home. But since it was so light, one was not enough at all! I ended up craving for more. Alas, I have to depend on myself now to satisfy the craving. Ok, this shall be my to-bake cake next.
Keiko-style Chocolate Cake.
It was actually quite simple to bake. And though it was very humble looking, the chocolate was rich and intense! Certainly not for the faint hearted. Haha. Chocolate lovers would adore it.

To balance the richness of the chocolate, it's best paired with some whipped cream. Eaten together, it could very well trigger an orgasmic taste experience.

Super Vanilla Cheese Cake.
This cheese cake would have been too rich if not for the blueberries added. The blueberries provided some tartness and brought about a balance to the otherwise heavy cake. Cheesecake lovers would enjoy it.

I love the multi-level of tastes - biscuit crust base, blueberries, cheesecake and finally sour cream filling top layer.

These lavender Cookies are quite easily done as well. I thought the fragrance of lavender would be weird for cookies since lavender products are inclined towards soap and aroma oils. Can't imagine myself eating my soap :p
But nope, this is very much a butter cookie, with subtle hint of lavender and not anything like those lavender scents at all.

Healthy Florentine - Almond and Walnuts Caramel Cookies. Thought it tasted a little like muesli bars. While I liked the nut mixture with caramel, the base cookie was a little bland and hard for my liking. I think I would just eat the nut mixture on its own without making the cookie dough. LOL.Presenting all the yummy and pretty cakes and pastries! The feature here was the teddy bear donning chef uniform, bought by Shermay as a farewell gift for Chef Keiko! So cute!
Baked treats for everyone to bring home. Gonna miss her!

21 March 2009

Nonya Nasi Lemak Class

Attended 'My Grandma's Nonya Nasi Lemak' class at Shermay's Cooking School this afternoon, taught by Shermay herself! The Nasi Lemak recipe and accompanying dishes can also be found in Shermay's updated version of The New Mrs Lee's Cookbook - a precious collection of Peranakan recipes first published in 1974 by Mrs Lee Chin Koon.

Was rather hesitant about signing up for the class initially, because Peranakan food is perceived to involve lots of meticulous preparation, cutting, pounding and cooking with lots of herbs and spices. Especially after watching the drama serial 'Little Nonya' which brought about a Peranakan craze round island recently.

Decided to go ahead nonetheless as I'm really attracted to the recipes.
  • Nasi Lemak (coconut rice) - I love nasi lemak, especially the fragrance of coconut and pandan leaves.
  • Sambal Udang (Stir-fried prawns in thick and spicy sambal sauce) - Hubby would love this dish, combination of prawns and sambal.
  • Ikan Asam Pekat (Braised fish in a gravy made from tamarind and tumeric) - Likewise, hubby would love this dish, which has tinge of sourness from the tamarind juice.
  • Sambal Timun (Cucumbers in sambal) - I love cucumbers! Always a must-order when I come across achar achar or sambal cucumbers at mixed rice stalls or muslim stalls.
  • Bonus recipes: Onion omelet - a simple egg dish, always nice to go along with nasi lemak; and Ikan Bilis (Whitebait and peanuts with caramelised sugar and chilli powder) - to me, a must have side dish for nasi lemak!
Preparation of ingredients is important, whether baking or cooking - a very useful tip that I learnt at Shermay's Cooking School. All the chefs here adopt this practice to ensure a smooth cooking/baking procedure.

Nasi Lemak
Rice in process of steaming. Didn't know that cooking nasi lemak involve meticulous steps as well. Thought it is as simple as using a rice cooker. Probably this is the nonya style, but seriously I can never look at nasi lemak the same way again.
Oh and look at this steamer pot, it is 30 years old! Really amazing that it is in such a good condition despite constant use. Apparently can't be found in shops now. Luckily Shermay found alternative steamer pot at Ikea.

Nasi Lemak all cooked and ready to be served. Just look at the grains, they seem to be glistering. For good nasi lemak, each grain of rice is supposed to be glazed with coconut milk.
I love the traditional Peranakan serveware, the designs and colours are so lively and vivid. Makes the dish even more palatable and appetising.

Ikan Asam Pekat
Spanish mackerel known as Ikan Tenggiri is the type of fish for this dish. Of all fish, my favourite is Ikan Tenggiri as I love the texture and sweetness of the meat. Usually I would just rub slices with sea salt and pan-fry the fish. This is another way of cooking the fish, I must certainly try it!

Surprisely, the tamarind juice and rempah (raw grounded spices and herbs) are not that difficult to prepare. So glad that it is actually achievable (good news, don't have to use mortar and pestle to pound the rempah!)

Sambal Udang
The Sambal Udang is not that difficult as well. Shermay has simplified the recipe into clear and concise steps, so it makes it easier to pick up the gist of Peranakan cooking.
A simple onion omelet. Very nostalgic and humble dish that seems to be a staple side dish of nasi lemak.

Sambal Timun
Have seen different presentations/methods of spicy cucumber salads sold at mixed rice stalls and muslim stalls. I must say that this is actually not difficult to prepare and can be served within an hour (including marinate time).

Ikan Bilis
A must-have side dish for nasi lemak. Although ingredients are simple, to make an outstanding ikan bilis, more work is involved to enhance the flavours. So now I know whether stall owners put in effort for preparing ikan bilis when I eat nasi lemak at hawker stalls.

Food tasting time!
The nasi lemak blew me away, I have never tasted nasi lemak cooked this way before. It is fluffy, yet with a little bite because every grain of rice is glazed with coconut. The smell is definitely addictive due to the fragrance of pandan leaves.
I love the Ikan Sam Pekat! The fish is fresh, with the tamarind juice infused into the meat, enhancing the sweetness. The gravy also whets the appetite and goes well with the rice.
Same goes for the Sambal Udang. The gravy has a unique piquant flavour. But probably not spicy enough, otherwise would be more shiok! Perhaps I could try adding more chillies.
The onion omelet is well, a simple dish, yet would be very missed if not included.
I love the Sambal Timun! The rempah and marinade is surprising quite light, making the cucumbers very refreshing and crunchy, and definitely helps cleanse the palate after the heavy tastes of fish, prawns and ikan bilis.
Second helping with ikan bilis. Opps, gluttony in the works.
The ikan bilis is crispy, spicy with slight sweetness. Totally addictive. Goes very well with rice!
Glad that I attended this class. The food tasting was definitely satisfying and also pleased to receive Canola Oil sponsored by Sunbeam!
So now, I believe I can attempt these dishes too. Can't wait to try them soon!

20 March 2009

Petite cupcakes and mini contact cards

Was busy preparing and baking for a cupcake order immediately after I returned from my Koh Samui holiday.

For this order, I highly recommended the Valrhona Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Chocolate Buttercream Frosting and the Oreo Cream Cheese Cupcakes, both petite sizes. I thought these 2 flavours complement each other really well, each has its distinct flavour yet not too overwhelming for pairing. There are 2 other flavours that I'd like to recommend as well - Carrot, Walnut & Orange Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting and Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Buttercream Frosting. But these 2 flavours have strong taste and I think may be better-off on their own.

I'm totally into petite size cupcakes these days. This way, it seems less sinful =p Haha, how deceptive, I forgot about second helpings. Ok, nicely put, more flavours can be savoured :D

My usual white box packaging with colour labels.

One gripe though, I can't seem to find affordable broad-base paper bags around. Really hate to settle for those fugly looking plastic bags. Probably have to consider handmade paper bags one of these days.
During the process of preparing ingredients and baking the cupcakes, I suddenly have this idea of making my own mini contact cards as giveaways. The cards could serve as a thank you card and would be useful as a bookmark or decor piece (in office cubicles) and with contact info should anyone be keen to place orders. Had thought of printing namecards before... but semi handmade cards would probably add more personal touch.

Moreover, I have ready materials - scrap paper stock, brads, eyelets etc from my card making hobby. I'm all set to go!

So here they are. Mini contact cards with prints of some of my favourite cakes :) Very easy and fuss free to make.

Hope these cards can cheer people up as well. Although the photos are not professionally taken nor printed, I believe the personal touch and thought that goes into each and every piece counts.

Whatever it is, I'm really enjoying what I'm doing now. This is what matters, right?
Realised I have a number of handmade cards yet to showcase. Got to find time to blog about them soon.
Till then, looking forward to the weekend (I'm attending 2 cooking/baking workshops). So exciting!